Excerpts from Part 1
The dark memory of a time when Rachel was truly alone tempered the argument with her brother. A survivor of Auschwitz, Rachel had hidden in the women's barracks on the day the Nazis emptied the camp. After the Russian Army liberated the camp, she had hitchhiked from Poland to France, sleeping in fields and surviving on the kindness of strangers. Months later, and with indescribable joy, she arrived in liberated Paris and waited with excited expectation for returning members of the Gale family. While in Paris, Rachel had joined hundreds of other Jews at the Hotel Lutetia, all searching for news of loved ones separated by the deportations. Notes were posted and bits of information exchanged between concentration camp survivors were eagerly pursued. Week after interminable week, Rachel waited, unwilling to believe that she was the only survivor of her family. Clinging to what others called futile hope, she sat in the lobby of the hotel, carefully examining each Jew with interest, bombarding every newcomer with descriptions of her parents and brothers. After a month, she learned from eyewitnesses that her mother and father had been sent to the crematoriums at Auschwitz. Michel, her oldest brother, was last seen in a work camp located on the perimeter of Auschwitz. Abbi, Michel's Christian wife, made her feelings clear when she refused Rachel's request for a place to stay. During the long occupation of France, Abbi had come to regret her marriage to a Jew. And Jacques? At the time Rachel was deported from Drancy with her parents, Jacques had been a resistance prisoner of the Gestapo in France. The last known news of Joseph, Ester and their child was that they were still living in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Spring of 1942.
Rachel was almost at the point of abandoning all hope and accompany her insistent Jewish acquaintances to Palestine, when she recognized a familiar figure reading the posted notes at the hotel. Joseph had returned! After a tearful reunion, Rachel joined her brother and his wife on the journey to Palestine. Europe was no longer safe for Jews.
Only after arriving safely in Palestine, had they learned of Jacques' fate.
With a sad grimace, Rachel began to arrange food on the serving trays.
The house was soon filled with sounds of the celebration of the night of the Shalom Zachar (welcome to the male child). Regardless of the deterioration of Jerusalem life, neighbors and friends of the Gale family filled the house.
Ari and Leah Jawor made a last-minute appearance. They were delighted when Joseph asked them to be his new son's god-parents. They began to excitedly discuss the Brit Milah, the traditional ceremony held eight days following the birth of a male child, where the child is named and circumcised. Neither Ari nor Leah knew the name chosen for the boy. Such information would be held privately within the Gale family until the Brit Milah, but they knew the infant would be named for a departed member of Joseph and Ester's family. Ashkenacic Jewish tradition taught that the memory of the departed would guide the life of the newborn, and due to the Holocaust, Joseph and Ester Gale had numerous possibilities from which to select.
Suddenly, there was loud applause. Rachel brought out three bottles of red wine she had hidden away for the birth of her brother's child. For the first time in months, the kitchen table was loaded with food. Each guest had generously contributed some bit of food they had stowed away for a special occasion. There were cooked beans and peas, some boiled potatoes and even a box of fresh fruit. The fruit had been smuggled into the beleaguered city by Ari Jawor. The precious fruit and wine created more excitement than the birth of the child. There was even a cake, dangerously tilted to one side from the lack of certain ingredients.
While swaying to the sound of the sonorous Hebrew singing, Joseph gathered Michel in his arms, telling him, "You are the light of my life! You are perfection!" Joseph allowed Michel a sip of wine, telling him, "My son! To life!"
A big smile crossed Joseph's lips: new life meant Jewish strength!
Ester smiled the sweetest of smiles, watching her husband delight in their eldest son. She leaned her head against Joseph's shoulder and closed her eyes, reminding herself of the wonderful reality that she was the mother of two healthy sons.
The cantor continued to lead the guests in song, and everyone was smiling and happy, unwavering in their resolve to enjoy the moment and forget about the violence which was overtaking the small country they now claimed as their own. When the sound of gunfire erupted in the neighborhood, two of the men armed themselves and went outside to guard the house. The remaining guests raised their voices and sang even louder, drowning out the chaos of Jerusalem, portraying a perfect picture of people living in a time of peace and harmony.
The moment became bittersweet for Joseph. The scene around him required all the restraint he possessed to maintain his composure. Only a short while ago their future had been intricately intertwined with large and caring families. World War II brought deadly consequences for those whom they loved, and more of Joseph and Ester Gale's past had been lost than saved. Now, too soon, they again found themselves fighting for their lives and the lives of their two young children.
Joseph was fighting the urge to burst into laughter and to cry out in anguish, both in the same instant. His eyes teared with happiness at the safe birth of a son and with sorrow at the thought of the loved ones who had not lived to experience this cherished moment. Yet, Joseph felt some small comfort from the knowledge that the memory of Ester's most beloved brother, Daniel Stern, a good man, a brave man, would now live through their own son. Earlier in the day, Joseph and Ester had made the decision to name their new son, Daniel. Daniel Gale.
His mood reached his wife, Ester, and she nodded. She understood: although their sons carried the names of those lost, they would never forget Joseph's brother Michel, or her own brother, Daniel. Looking into Joseph's face, she knew that her husband was seeing another place and another time, and despite the tremendous joy he felt from the birth of two healthy sons, he remained desperately sad.
The traditions of Jewish life called out for the large families they had both lost at Treblinka and Auschwitz. As scarred survivors of the Holocaust, Joseph and Ester had never dreamed the day would come when there would ever again be cause for celebration in their lives, just as in the years before the Holocaust, they never could have imagined the empty void which would come to a culmination at their most significant family events.
Joseph and Ester Gale stood beside each other, hiding their true thoughts, while singing and exchanging pleasant conversation with their friends.
Their guests would have been surprised if they had known Joseph and Ester Gale saw no one standing before them, no one at all.
© The Sasson Corporation • Rights to publish Ester's Child owned by Windsor-Brooke Books, LLC.
Excerpts from Part 1